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National, local truckers watching swine flu

The national trucking industry is taking serious the spread of swine flu.

Although it often can be hard to distinguish between media hype and real alarm, government and officials with the American Trucking Associations’ are watching the spread of what has been a deadly-flu contagion in Mexico.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Centers of Disease Control upgraded the outbreak to a Phase 4 alert. According to the CDC Web site, “A Phase 4 alert is characterized by confirmed person-to-person spread of a new influenza virus able to cause ‘community-level’ outbreaks.” The increase in the pandemic alert phase indicates that the likelihood of a pandemic has increased.”

The Fort Smith region is home to two trucking operations that have personnel in and near Mexico. Fort Smith-based Arkansas Best Corp., and Van Buren-based USA Truck Inc., likely have hundreds of personnel and drivers in areas of the U.S. (California, Kansas, New York City, Ohio and Texas) where cases of swine flu have been detected.

The American Trucking Associations’ worked with the U.S. Departments of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services to publish a “Pandemic Guideline” document trucking companies may use to increase their level of preparedness in case of a potential pandemic situation.

“ATA is aware that, depending on how aggressively the Swine Flu continues to spread, certain government actions might be taken which could impact trucking operations, especially cross-border operations with Mexico and Canada, and potentially at a domestic level,” the trucking association noted in a statement.

Arkansas Best spokesman David Humphrey said company officials are “working within the guidelines” provided by the CDC and Department of Homeland Security.

“We’ll continue to monitor the updates provided by the various agencies and take the necessary steps to inform our employees in order to keep them safe,” Humphrey said.

Lane Kidd, president of the Arkansas Trucking Association, stressed that the spread of the disease is usually from people traveling in airplanes and not through the transfer of cargo by trucks.

“Now, conversations with two of my member trucking companies that do business into and out of Mexico say their drivers are interested in this issue and some are hesitant to venture into Laredo,” Kidd said in an e-mail response to The City Wire. “However, for the most part, drivers do not interact with either the cargo or Mexican personnel.”

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(Efforts to contact officials with USA Truck were unsuccessful.)

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